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Top Ten Biblical Discoveries in Archaeology – #9 Jehu’s Tribute to Shalmaneser III

This post is a continuation of our Top Ten Biblical Discoveries in Archaeology series. To see the complete series please click here.

Setting the Stage

In 1846 archaeologist Henry Layard led a dig of a site in modern day Iraq named Kalhu. Layard, who also discovered #10 on our list, was fast becoming one of the world’s leading experts on the ancient Assyrians. Kalhu was once the capital of the ancient Assyrian Empire. Assyria was the leading world-power for a few hundred years (roughly 900-650BC). Many of the people and events in the Old Testament took place during this time of history.

Kalhu, also known as Nimrud, is located south of Nineveh on the river Tigris. The city covered an area of around 16 square miles. The ruins of the city are located only 19 miles southeast of current-day Mosul.

Layard discovered something in Kalhu shocking the archaeological world. Kalhu’s discovery centered on an Assyrian king named Shalmaneser III. You’ve probably never heard of King Shalmaneser III. He ruled Assyria from 859-824 BC.  His long reign of 35 years consisted of constant military campaigns against eastern tribes such as the Babylonians, the nations Mesopotamia, Syria, etc…

Things are getting Interesting

In 853BC a coalition was formed to try to kick Shalmaneser’s buttocks. The coalition consisted of some leading kingdoms of the time. The Kurkh Monolith, which is an amazing archaeological discovery in its own right, explains the coalition fighting against Shalmaneser. The Kurkh Monolith lists the coalition as the kingdoms of Egypt, Hamath, Arvand, the Ammonites, “Ahab of Israel” and other neighboring states, under the leadership of king Hadadezer of Damascus. The coalition in 853BC defeats Shalmaneser at the Battle of Qarqar. Shalmaneser loses the battle but is determined to win the overall war.

Ahab and Jezebel

Did you catch one of those coalition names? Yes, I’m talking about, “Ahab of Israel.” Ahab and Jezebel are the Bonnie and Clyde of the Old Testament. No married couple did more to lead people away from God than Jezebel and Ahab. Their pathetic exploits take up a surprisingly large portion of the Old Testament. 1 Kings 16 through 2 Kings 10 describe their lives.

God raises up several people to prophecy against and destroy the evil works of Ahab and Jezebel. One of the greatest prophets in the Bible, Elijah, spends his entire prophetic career speaking against Ahab and Jezebel. The Kurkh Monolith confirms the reign of Ahab and also his coalition with the Syrian king Hadadezer of Damascus.

Enter Jehu on the Scene

God raises up a man who would absolutely destroy the royal line of Ahab. In 2 Kings 9 Jehu is anointed the new king of Israel. God then uses Jehu to destroy the evil kings of Israel and Judah. Jehu drives his chariot to a city named Jezreel. 2 Kings 9:30 takes it from here, “When Jehu came to Jezreel, Jezebel heard of it. And she painted her eyes and adorned her head and looked out of the window. And as Jehu entered the gate, she said, “Is it peace, you Zimri, murderer of your master?” And he lifted up his face to the window and said, “Who is on my side? Who? “Two or three eunuchs looked out at him. He said, “Throw her down.” So they threw her down. And some of her blood spattered on the wall and on the horses, and they trampled on her.”

Yes, I admit, the previous verse paints a grotesque scene. If you feel any sympathy for Jezebel you have wasted your sympathy. She was evil to the core. If you read the accounts in 1 and 2 Kings you will see what I mean. She makes people like Osama Bin Laden look like members of the junior varsity team of evil leadership.

The Discovery

As Henry Layard’s team, in 1846, excavated the sandy world of Kahu they encountered a large black object taking them quickly back to the time of Shalmaneser III, Ahab and Jehu. The large black object is known as an obelisk. The word obelisk simply refers to the shape of the object. 21st century Americans are most familiar with a white obelisk known as the Washington monument. This black obelisk is not as big as the Washington monument, it’s only 6 feet tall, but for an archaeological find in the middle of a desert…a black carved object 6 feet tall is a substantial discovery.

We know the obelisk was erected as a public monument in 825 BC at a time of civil war. The relief sculptures surrounding all sides of the obelisk glorify the military achievements of King Shalmaneser III and his chief minister. The king thought the obelisk would help inspire the people toward greater national patriotism and unity thereby helping to end the civil war. The Obelisk lists military campaigns of thirty-one years and the tribute they exacted from their neighbours: including camels, monkeys, an elephant and a rhinoceros. Assyrian kings often collected exotic animals and plants as an expression of their power.

The obelisk contains five different scenes on five different rows.  Each row depicts the tribute of a foreign king. A tribute would usually entail a foreign king coming before Shalmaneser and bowing down before him showing Shalmaneser to be the ultimate king of his land.

Guess what? The second row of pictures on the Obelisk depicts the tribute of one particular king whom we know. When the ancient Assyrian Cuneiform inscription was translated the biblical world was shocked. The inscription reads, “The tribute of Jehu, son of Omri: I received from him silver, gold, a golden bowl, a golden vase with pointed bottom, golden tumblers, golden buckets, tin, a staff for a king [and] spears.”

Significance

  1. This is the ONLY, to my knowledge, contemporary artistic depiction of anyone mentioned in the Bible. What do I mean by contemporary? This is the only artistic depiction of someone in the Bible done by a person who actually lived during the same time. The Obelisk you see before you was created while Jehu was still the king sitting on his throne in Israel. The people knew what Jehu looked like. History outside of the Bible tells us Jehu and Shalmaneser were kings at the same time. When the Obelisk was created Jehu still had 10 years left of his reign in Israel.
  2. The black obelisk fully supports every detail of the Bible. It makes perfect sense for Jehu to be paying tribute to Shalmaneser. Here are some reasons:
  • Jehu was the mortal enemy of Ahab. Who was one of Ahab’s allies? Hadadezer the king of Damascus. It would be natural for the king of Damascus to hate Jehu.  A man named Hazael assassinated Hadadezer and became the new king of Damascus. We learn from 2 Kings 10:32, “In those days the Lord began to cut off parts of Israel. Hazael defeated them throughout the territory of Israel.” Jehu was being routed by Hazael, he needed some help to try to keep the country alive.
  • You may be thinking, “Why in the world would a king of Israel, especially someone like Jehu who was being used by God in powerful ways, ever pay tribute to the King of Assyria?”  Why didn’t Jehu just pray to God and allow God to rescue him from Hazael? We learn from 2 Kings 10:31, “But Jehu was not careful to walk in the law of the Lord, the God of Israel, with all his heart. He did not turn from the sins of Jeroboam, which he made Israel to sin.” Jehu had some amazing moments being zealous for God, but had other times in his reign when he wasn’t walking with God. It would make perfect sense for Jehu, instead of praying, to be looking for the Assyrian King to rescue him from King Hazael.
  • Don’t forget the coalition defeating Shalmaneser at the battle of Qarqar in 853BC. Shalmaneser would have never forgotten that battle. Two of the people in that coalition: the king of Damascus and Ahab. Jehu and Shalmaneser shared common enemies. It would be natural for Shalmaneser and Jehu to join forces.

The black obelisk depicting Jehu’s tribute to Shalmaneser is such an amazing archaeological discovery. We are brought right into the time frame of the 9th century BC. The discovery provides such rich evidence for the accuracy of many events mentioned in 1st and 2nd Kings. The cherry on the top from the discovery is being able to see the real life depiction of one of the important kings of Israel.

As we continue down our Top Ten list the significance of our discoveries continue to grow. What do you think of the discovery?  Feel free to join the conversation by commenting on this discovery.

29 Responses to “Top Ten Biblical Discoveries in Archaeology – #9 Jehu’s Tribute to Shalmaneser III”

  1. Further proof of Israel’s claim to the land.

  2. Pretty cool but are we really to think that the figures are meant as literal depictions of individuals? It would have been a good idea for the King to be reasonably life-like and to have each foreign ruler display some detail of grooming or dress that would distinctive to his place of origin. However, most of the faces appear to have been carved so as to be identical, not recognizable as actual people.

  3. Careful, Carol. The Cherokee will be evicting us next.

  4. These posts are great! Can’t wait to see what the rest are!

  5. I was looking forward to this series, so that I could increase my knowledge of archaeology and history, but I cannot believe what the author is saying.

    Some quotes from the article:

    “No married couple did more to lead people away from God than Jezebel and Ahab. Their pathetic exploits take up a surprisingly large portion of the Old Testament.”

    “If you feel any sympathy for Jezebel you have wasted your sympathy. She was evil to the core. If you read the accounts in 1 and 2 Kings you will see what I mean. She makes people like Osama Bin Laden look like members of the junior varsity team of evil leadership.”

    “The black obelisk fully supports every detail of the Bible”

    “Jehu had some amazing moments being zealous for God, but had other times in his reign when he wasn’t walking with God”

    “The discovery provides such rich evidence for the accuracy of many events mentioned in 1st and 2nd Kings”

    These quotes show that the author is biased, and pushing an agenda in this series of articles. That being, the bible is 100% literally true in every detail, and the available evidence(archeological discoveries) will be moulded/edited/chosen/presented to fit this conclusion. The conclusion is pre-arranged.

    given the angle that the author is taking, lets look at an innocuous quote:

    “The Kurkh Monolith lists the coalition as the kingdoms of Egypt, Hamath, Arvand, the Ammonites, “Ahab of Israel” and other neighboring states, under the leadership of king Hadadezer of Damascus”

    Is this an accurate representation of the contents of the Kurkh Monolith? I don’t know.
    Are there other plausible interpretations or translations of what is written? I don’t know.
    Was the Kurkh Monolith used for propaganda purposes? I don’t know.
    Are there other pertinent details that have been left out? I don’t know.

    Any of these things may be the case and the author would ignore it, due to his agenda.

    I can’t accept anything that the author writes,…

  6. Boz, that was a little harsh. You are usually more even keeled than that. I am not sure if I can read any more of your comments.

  7. Great article!

    Now, which one was Jehu? Was he the one bowing to the ground or the one standing? I would think that an Israelite King would not have bowed taking heed to the word, but Jehu was an idolater (2 Kings 10:29-31).

    Any insight into this?

  8. Boz,

    There has been no archaeological find that has ever overturned recorded biblical event and description of an event. Out of over 25,000 discoveries none have discredited a biblical narrative. I wouldn’t expect this one to do so. I don’t see what the problem is…

  9. I just finished reading 1 and 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles and starting 2 Chronicles. Tim has given me great insight and made those scriptures come alive.

    Boz,
    I don’t see any bias. If you read the scriptures he noted you will see what he is talking about. I think the negativity was a little over the top. A few inquiring questions would have been more appropriate.

    Tim,
    Thank you for these articles. I believe the scriptures regardless of what is discovered but it does get an exciting glimpse of the past.

  10. Very Interesting! I’m enjoying this series.

  11. I’m sorry, but where in the Tanakh is it recorded Ahab was in a coalition with 10 (or 11) other kings in a battle against Assyria? Although the Kurkh monolith certainly confirms there was a person named Ahab—is it confirming any recorded event in the Tanakh?

    Similarly, I do not see an account in the Tanakh regarding Jehu giving tribute to Assyria, either. Again, the Salmaneser obelisk confirms there was a person named Jehu—but does it confirm any recorded event in the Tanakh?

    I would agree these are fun archeological discoveries, and certainly confirmation of some people’s existence within the Tanakh (was this ever in dispute?), but we have to be careful to stretch it too far and claim “Since the Kurkh monolith mentions ‘Ahab,’ this is proof positive Jezebel was trampled by horses.”

  12. Scott F,

    I agree this might not have been a 100% likeness of Jehu. I imagine, however, it looked more like him than not like him.

    Thanks for your comments,
    Tim

  13. Boz,

    I solicited comments at the end of my post so thank you for taking me up on it. Thanks for being honest. I’m sorry you’re at a place where you feel you can’t accept anything I’m writing.

    My objective in writing this series, as the title implies, are the top ten discoveries which have biblical significance. I couldn’t tell from your post what your beliefs are, but I want you to know that I believe in the accuracy and authority of the Bible regardless of a single discovery from archaeology.

    My objective in these posts is to show how certain discoveries only support the details of the Bible.

    The only one of your points where I where you’re coming from is on my unclear sentence of the discovery supporting the 100% accuracy of the Bible. By this I do not mean this discovery means that Paul was on the road to Damascus when he saw Christ. That would make no sense. My meaning behind that sentence was to say the black obelisk and the kurkh monolith are fully in step with the details portrayed in the 1 and 2 Kings.

    It has become popular in the last 70 years to doubt the historicity of the Bible. My statement spoke more to those doubting the historical reliability of the Bible. People who would say many of the people and positions of those mentioned in the Bible are inaccurate and grossly exaggerated.

    I’m not certain why you are upset that I’m supporting the inerrancy of Scripture with discoveries from archaeology in this series. Thinking of the list, there will be some discoveries where the accuracy of scripture isn’t as prominent from the discovery, but I’m interested to find out why this is causing you to be so angry?

    thank you for your post and time interacting,
    Tim

  14. DagoodS,

    Providing the details of Ahab and Jezebel in my post was to give provide the biblical setting of Jehu for those unfamiliar with 1 and 2 Kings. My intention is not to show that the Kurkh Monolith proves Jezebel was trampled by horses. Instead, I was seeking to show by my post the Black Obelisk and Kurkh Monolith reside comfortably alongside the events mentioned in the Bible.

    We have to take for granted that the black obelisk specifically is a propaganda piece seeking to stop the Assyrian civil war. Even with this taken into consideration we still see these pieces as being supportive of the biblical account.

    I agree we shouldn’t stretch something too far, yet we also shouldn’t be looking to be spoon fed. We shouldn’t expect to find in the annals of Assyrian history quotations from and commentary of Hebrew Scripture. Some quick thoughts…

    thanks so much for your comments and for the interaction…
    Tim

  15. Pastor Harvey,

    Some scholars do think Jehu could have sent a representative to bow down before Shalmaneser…it’s definitely possible. As I said in my post, I think Jehu’s reputation as a person who didn’t always walk with God that it’s entirely possible Jehu himself did bow before the king.

    On the Obelisk there are 13 Hebrew men shown…one bowing down…one in the front of the procession with his hands clasped, and then 12 men carrying gifts to Shalmaneser. If Jehu isn’t the one bowing down he could be the man with his hands clasped. The twelve men carrying gifts could possibly represent one from each of the tribes of Israel, but this would seem unlikely with the divided kingdom. Since the inscription says that Jehu, son of Omri is paying tribute it seems most straight forward that Jehu is indeed bowing down before the king.

    Tim

  16. Tim,

    Very interesting stuff. I agree with you that we shouldn’t make archeology responsible for proving the Bible, only to support its historical authenticity, when and where possible. I also believe this isn’t the time or the place for some on this thread to start a debate about the pros and cons of religious ‘science’.

    It is what it is, simply a remarkable collection of antiquities that both Christians and non-Christians alike can both enjoy and speculate upon.

    God bless.

  17. Tim Kimberley,

    I was being facetious (with a bit of hyperbole) by the Jezebel comment. *grin* (Although, at times, when discussing these things it does sometimes feel as if people really try to stretch it that far.) I was not trying to imply you were doing this.

    I quite agree these archeological finds include mythological propaganda, and we can take their claims with a grain of salt. Things like bragging of so many 10,000’s of soldiers, and exulting over “utterly wiping out” a civilization that somehow continues to exist for 100’s of more years.

    Yet why should the stories in the Tanakh be exempt? Like King Ahab defeating 33 kings. 1 Kings 20:1. Or King Jehu leaving seventy heads outside the gates. 2 Kings 10:8-9. Or King David able to muster an army of 1.5 million (!) men. 1 Chron. 21:5

    Aren’t these subject to equal probability of mythological propaganda?

    Again, I agree there very likely was a tribal leader named “David” developing into many subsequent myths. There were nations of Israel and Judah in the first millennium BCE. Not surprisingly, they interacted with adjoining nations, and each recorded their histories—at times referencing the other, so we see common names like “Ahab” and “Jehu.”

    Do you think, like other histories of the time, the Tanakh contains myth? Of propaganda?

  18. In (partial) defense of Boz, I will agree these two statements of Tim’s are way overstated, or at least could be interpreted that way:

    “The discovery provides such rich evidence for the accuracy of many events mentioned in 1st and 2nd Kings”

    “The black obelisk fully supports every detail of the Bible”

    The evidence only explicitly supports that individuals of similar name, position and chronology. From a historical viewpoint, that is strong validation of the Biblical narrative as it relates to name, position and chronology…but it speaks very little to most of the details of the Biblical narrative.

    I will agree with the author that the finds are significant in that they validate basic details of the Biblical text, are compatible with the other details, and contradict none.

    Dagoods and Boz –

    As Tim has mentioned, the evangelical acceptance of the Biblical text as truthful and without error is Tim’s (as well as my) presupposition. This is at least partially theological and isn’t really the discussion at hand.

    I would guess that Tim’s point in this series of posts isn’t to “prove” the Bible, though it is providing evidence for the skeptic, but to just note significant finds that corroborate historical details and claims in the Bible.

  19. Hence Tim is discovering the postmoderisque tentativeness of many of us on this blog!

    In Tim’s defense, the audience here is going to be varied from those who take such statements (“100% support”) as overstatement (“academic agnosticism”) and those who find the square fitting the square slot and being quit comforatable calling it a square.

    I think that there is certianly a time for calling a duck a duck (or a square a square) and a time to call into question overstatements. It all depends on the context. But as Tim said, the title of this series does have to do with direct support of the Bible, so I would suspect less ambiguity. He laid that out pretty well in the first post.

    I would think the best thing to do is not challenge Tim’s tone, but the validity of the finds. If you disagree that this does not support the Bible, you are welcome to express why. But jumping on Tim’s tone is the very definition of a red herring, isn’t it? (rhetorical question!)

  20. Thanks for the responses.

    I guess my main issue is that the investigation of the historical situation is done in the reverse direction. Instead of the neutral “find all the information and make resonable conclusions”, this series does: “start with an unchange-able conclusion, and find any information that supports this”.

    So I am left thinking to myself, “I wonder what the rest of the information contributes to the issue? The information/evidence that is not presented/discussed?”

    Of course, the author can write with what ever angle he wants, and that’s fine.

    I shouldn’t have expected a neutral point-of-view, given that this is a apologetics blog, and that was my mistake!

  21. Actually, it is not an apologetics blog, but a theology blog.

    May not be any biggie to a lot of people, but to me it is somewhat significant. However, I do see how this series of Tim’s could be see more apologetically.

  22. Boz,

    I have gone over your initial post several times, and what I find is a series of logical fallacies, all based on the presupposition that the Bible is a book of myth and legend and anyone who believes it is naturally biased toward it being true.

    “Is this an accurate representation of the contents of the Kurkh Monolith? I don’t know.
    Are there other plausible interpretations or translations of what is written? I don’t know.
    Was the Kurkh Monolith used for propaganda purposes? I don’t know.
    Are there other pertinent details that have been left out? I don’t know.

    Any of these things may be the case and the author would ignore it, due to his agenda.

    I can’t accept anything that the author writes,…”

    Your premises make contain no propositiions, only red-herring questions, which you admit you do not know the answer to. And, you conclusion does not logiocally follow from your “presmises”. Therefore, following the rules of logic, your premises are untrue, your conclsion invalid, and your argument unsound and incoherent.

    How about approaching this material with the intellectual honesty that you accuse the author of NOT having?

  23. Warren Lamb,

    You communicated what I was desiring to say to Boz much more effectively than I could have put into words. I just have to say thanks for doing it for me. Thanks for the articles Tim. I have enjoyed reading them and it is really cool to take a step back in time and see the events of the Bible actually seem more real getting to see the pieces of history back them up and give them legitimacy.

  24. Great article! I love your dedication to this time in biblical history and the findings themselves.

  25. Boz, speaking of agendas . . . .

  26. Fantastic discovery, I hope that many more are found as History is a wonderful lesson and time does not change human nature.

    Jehu is a survivor and he knows who to pay homage to.
    Since he killed so many of his own brothers, it is fitting to see him on his knees at the mercy of the Assyrian
    power. Many of his opponents did not get the luxory of grovelling before they were executed.

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